Fallout 4 review

The wasteland is full of dangers, wonders and mystery. It’s powerfully compelling, practically longing to be explored. Moreover, exploration is profusely rewarding. Every nook and cranny hides ammo, medical supplies, crafting and building resources, wasteland lore, easter eggs, enemies, missions and general adventure. It’s meticulously crafted to look lived-in as well as match aesthetically with every other aspect of the title. It’s truly a delight to roam this nuclear wasteland.

This does, however, make it a daunting experience for the uninitiated. Indeed those who haven’t played previous Bethesda titles of this ilk – Elder Scrolls and Fallout – are in for an open world brimming with life; a fully functioning ecosystem that brings with it a common set of rules and limitations fit for a world where mosquitoes have mutated to the size of eagles, and it’s considered completely logical to eat canned good hundreds of years past their sell by date. Welcome to Fallout 4.

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200 years after a devastating nuclear war you emerge from vault 111 and into a vast, decimated wasteland. Your home is in ruins, as are the majority of the structures littered around the Boston area. Plant life is largely dead, water sources are irradiated and the local wildlife is horribly mutated. The surface dwelling human population is now scattered amongst small, ramshackle settlements with many having turned to crime and forming raiding parties. Meanwhile mutations have taken hold of the less fortunate and desiccated their flesh, where it’s only a matter of time before their mind goes and they turn feral, wondering the wasteland looking to savagely tear apart any passer-by. The nuclear powered, 1950s style pre-war technology offers minimal computing power and robot assistance in its dilapidated form, and society reverts back to a more selfish, insular time; a new Wild West where slavery, raiding and self-preservation are rife and the vestige of community, selflessness and decency barely hangs on. It’s an ideal environment for adventure and provides plenty of it.

A main questline is laid before you, a personal quest that embroils you in something much bigger, but the wasteland is abundant with additional tales and side objectives. There’s well over a hundred hours of content waiting for you to uncover, whether that’s joining up with the military faction the Brotherhood of Steel, pickpocketing and stealing your way to wealth to live pretty in Diamond City, or leading the Minutemen and building your own settlements. There’s plenty to keep you busy.

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Superbly there’s something interesting to see and do every few steps. Simply walking from one quest marker to another can be tricky due to multiple distractions tempting you towards something else. Uncovering a settlement under attack from super mutants can throw you into a large and difficult battle before embroiling you in a town mystery that puts you miles off track from your original objectives and eats away hours of time. It’s wonderfully entertaining from one moment to the next.

What helps with this is the improved shooting mechanics. Accuracy and recoil have been dialled in, meanwhile, VATs returns and continues the compellingly gruesome task of slow motion framing of your shots with the added element of luck helping to achieve critical hits that cause ridiculously gory explosions of blood to erupt from your enemies as a bullet or laser tears through their head, limbs or centre mass. It simply never gets old, and continues to provide a crucial link to Fallout’s RPG roots with random number generation, as well slow things down to aid with focusing on a fast moving or difficult to see foe.

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Meanwhile, the levelling system has been expanded and enhanced to provide you with a wealth of options each time you level up. You can either pick new perks that aids you in specific ways, such as increasing your accuracy with particular weapon types, or you can increase the effectiveness of a perk you already have, or further still you can increase one of your base stats, which in turn will provide you with additional perk option the next time you level up. It’s a vast table of perk with great scope for creating precisely the kind of character you want to pay as. Moreover, thanks to the poster style of the UI it’s very easy to see what options lie before you and map your progress, making levelling simple yet highly effective at shaping your character ready to take on the wasteland.

But Fallout 4 is so much more than just combat and exploration, deep dialogue trees allow for flowing conversations between yourself and NPCs, even to the point where gaining a new companion to join you on your journey is so seamless you don’t even know it’s happening until they trot along behind you. This is much more lifelike version of the wasteland than in previous Fallout titles and the protagonist’s own voice aids with this immersion significantly without compromising your ability to roleplay.

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The immersion is further enhanced by superb presentation. The soundtrack is powerful with nostalgic nods to music from previous entries and plenty of new, grander compositions to compliment your need for adventure. Colours are vibrant and the details mostly sharp. Muddy textures do plague clothing and character faces but it all fits together under a unique Fallout aesthetic identity and looks terrific overall. During particularly busy sections the framerate takes a dip but it jumps back up once a few enemies are felled or a few explosions have run their course. It’s a wonderfully stable and attractive package that brings the Fallout experience forwards without losing any of its charm.

The new settlement building experience is introduced early on in your adventure and proves remarkably intuitive once you commit to it. Certain areas of the wasteland can be torn down and rebuilt to your whim, allowing you to create spectacular structures and features with a robust set of building options. Much like every other aspect of Fallout 4 this is another pit that can easily consume tens of hours of your time and is thoroughly enjoyable throughout.

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Eventually, however, you will wish to push on with the story and this is perhaps the weakest part of the package. Despite the improved conversational flow and the new location of Boston, the story hits familiar beats from previous titles and never quite becomes the engrossing tale you hope that it might. Of course Fallout titles have never been about that; the emergent storytelling of experiencing the wasteland has always been the more compelling and interesting aspect and Fallout 4’s wasteland is absolutely ideal at providing this experience. It takes the phenomenal achievements of Fallout 3 and enhances it all. Ammo is scarcer and the AI more savvy resulting in a more challenging adventure, with more intense combat and exploration that feeds brilliantly into the survival experience. Moreover, the new dynamic weather makes the wasteland feel more natural and ominous, especial when a nuclear storm rolls through, reducing visibility and deafening you with the sound of thunder. It looks incredible and encourages you to seek cover, least you wander into unseen danger.

Indeed Fallout 4 is a remarkably immersive adventure game. It once again melds first-person shooting with RPG levelling and exploration superbly and allows you to explore a world rich with adventure. Furthermore, the experience it offers is different from one player to the next. Depending on the stats you start with and the perks you pick up as you level, your character is going to excel and struggle with different challenges found in the wasteland. And depending on where you go and the choices you make the overall experience is going to be completely different for each player. That kind of emergent storytelling is a remarkable thing to experience, and the modern Fallout titles provide exceptional game-worlds for this to occur. Fallout 4 is the greatest of these worlds so far.

Thanks to Xbox and Bethesda for their support

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